Friday, April 17, 2009

Drugs, Part 1

The first assignment I worked on in Kabul was a two-part series with National Public Radio's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson about Afghanistan's growing drug addiction problem. You can see NPR's web presentation of Part 1 here. (Please listen to Soraya's audio piece. It's good.)

The Afghan government is doing little to treat its own addict population, and funding for treatment from international organizations lags way behind funding and support for opium eradication. Experts we talked to said that a new United Nations survey being conducted is expected to show that 1 in 12 Afghans abuses drugs.

For the first part of the series, we visited Karima and her six children in the neighborhood of Shahre-Kohne, literally translated as "Broken City", in Kabul. Karima is addicted to heroin, opium and hashish and the week before we visited her, she was so desperate for cash that she tried to sell her 5-year-old daughter. Karima has exposed all of her children to the drugs from pregnancy onward.

A nearby drug treatment program, the Nejat Center, has been reaching out to Karima. Counselors and doctors have been visiting the small room where the family lives, trying to convince Karima to quit. She says that she wants to quit, but so far hasn't been able to.

Karima prepares her morning fix--a mixture of heroin and opium rolled in a cigarette.

Rika, 3, sits next to her mother and watches the process.

Karima said that her husband got her hooked on the drugs. That's 5-year-old Raisa (the one Karima tried to sell) on the far right and 3-year-old Rika, playing with her mother's cigarettes.

Fahima, 12, watches her mother. Karima makes Fahima go out and buy her drugs for her.

Rika, 3.

Fahima sits calmly while her grandmother Fariba, left, and Karima, right, giggle from the effects of the drugs. Both of Karima's parents are also drug addicts.

Pooh and cigarettes.

Fahima answers the door. Her hair is falling out in chunks and she has kidney stones. All of the children suffer from their exposure to heroin and opium smoke, as well as malnutrition.

Karima reaches for her few cooking utensils so she can begin to prepare lunch. Private donations to the Nejat Center were used to buy Karima a small stove and some gas for cooking, as well a few cans of food and cooking oil.

For lunch, potato soup with a little onion.

Arun, 7, and Raisa, 5, wait while Karima slices onion and potato. Karima's addiction means that sometimes there is just enough food to stifle the hunger pangs, but not enough for the children to thrive. And sometimes no food at all.

The youngest, 1-year-old Ghodratullah, sleeps soundly in his crib.

Karima hands off her still smoking cigarette to Fahima. The Nejat Center counselors recently discovered to their horror that the 12-year-old girl also smokes some of her mother's heroin and opium.


bb_aisha said...

Holly, as a journalist, one becomes immune to such stories, and rarely do they evoke emotions.

But through your pictures, you've caught my attention.

I sit here in a sense of shock..

chas said...

oh wow.
these are great/sad photos. the story is a tragedy but you tell it well.
this is really sad and it's heartbreaking. right when someone thinks that they've got it bad, things such as this documentary are put out there and they make other's feel a little more blessed to not have to live life like this.


LK said...

Wow, what a heartbreaking story and pictures. I hope you can continue to photograph the family and others in their situation. People need to see these.

Kevin Taylor said...

Oh, Holly.
The fourth picture from the end, where the mother is making soup. The steepled fingers, the supplicating look on the child who was nearly sold. Please love me. Please feed me. Please god take me somewhere that's not so fucked up.
Heartbreaking and luminous.

Erin said...

heroin, opium and hashish, oh my!
Pooh & cigarettes. God! This is heart-wrenching, excellent work Holly. You are an amazing photojournalist. Please don't ever loose your compassionate eye...I really like looking through it!

Taryn A. Hecker Photography said...

Beautiful work, Holly. I can't even imagine the future these kids have. How sad. Be safe over there.

Jason C. Larkin said...

A really stunning and at the same time deeply sad set of images. The realisation of the children's situation seems so very raw and uncomfortable I felt a sense of guilt for what their future holds. That's powerful visual story telling, and story's that need to be seen and heard. Hope to see you back in Cairo safe and sound at some point soon.

Laura said...

I stumbled upon this story and I'm glad I did. Your pictures tell the story well and make my heart ache for the children, especially Fahima.